Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Divine


“I’ve done everything a mother can do: I’ve locked her in her room, I’ve beat her with the car aerial.  Nothing changes her.  It’s hard being a loving mother.”  Divine as Dawn Davenport in “Female Trouble” (1974)



Prior to journeying to Gardner Center for a program on Divine, I watched James bowl a 425 series at Camelot and heard the Kings’ “Switching to Glide” on the way to IUN, where science fair participants were sporting cool green long-sleeve shirts.  I checked out Anne Tyler’s “A Spoonful of Blue Thread” at the library and ate a McDouble with fries for $2.87, including tax.  We picked up Cheryl Hagelberg in our old Miller neighborhood because Dick was in the orchestra pit at Memorial Opera House playing French horn for a production of “Les Miserables.”
 William Kazlauskis paintings; NWI Times photo by Damian Rico


At Gardner Center were a few paintings left over from last week’s hugely successful “Found Art Show Benefit” that featured abstracts by William Kazlauskis found posthumously in his basement and donated by the family estate.  Greeting us were Robin Rich and Rebecca Hanscom.  On Trivia Night at Temple Israel Rebecca, one of the judges, had worn a Flying Monkey costume.  Kay Rosen, commenting on a recent Saturday Night Live anniversary show, remembered that I’d first introduced her and Bud to the long-running sketch comedy show.  Steve Spicer was with Julie Jackson, former chair of IUN’s Performing Arts Department, who still owns a home in Miller even though she teaches at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.  She’s thrown great parties, including one to honor Roberta Wollons’s promotion to full professor.
above, John Waters and Glen Milstead; below, Milstead as Divine


Introducing “I am Divine,” Larry Lapidus said: “Before Boy George, before RuPaul, there was Divine, the zaftig drag diva and provocateur who, once glimpsed, was hard to forget.  Divine expanded the concept of the drag queen from brash female impersonator into something much larger, more subversive and less gender specific.”  The film was both poignant and hilarious.  Behind us, Al Renslow often laughed uncontrollably.  Born Harris Glenn Milstead in 1945, Divine was bullied in school and got into drag while a women’s hairdresser.  Friends with outlandish director John Waters, he starred in such experimental films as “Mondo Trasho” (1969) and “Pink Flamingos” (1972), as well as the mainstream hit “Hairspray” (1988).  Also a ribald nightclub performer and unique disco singer, Divine was an icon with gay communities on both coasts and worldwide, especially in Germany and England, where “Shoot Your Shot” and “You Think You’re a Man” became hits. He died at age 43, just before joining the cast the TV series “Married with Children.”

Host Larry Lapidus knew Divine during the 1980s.  Once after a party at Larry’s New York City apartment, Divine stretched out on a couch and lit a joint.  Spotting Divine nearly asleep, Larry made him promise to stop smoking, fearing he’d start a fire.  Generous to a fault, Divine frequently fell into debt despite lucrative live gigs.   He went shopping with Lapidus to help him pick out a tuxedo and offered to buy the most expensive outfit in the store only to discover that his credit cards were maxed out.  Larry took publicity shots of Divine when he was seeking male roles shortly before he suffocated in his sleep due to a huge girth and an asthmatic condition.  Infamous for allegedly eating dog shit in “Pink Flamingos” and tired of explaining why, Divine said that most people eat shit all their lives.  Divine truly enjoyed his widespread acceptance by the end of his too-short life.

Even though we’d seen “Les Miserables,” based on an 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, several times and disliked the story, we went to Memorial Opera House to hear Dick Hagelberg, in the orchestra pit with a dozen other musicians.  “Les Miz” has a great score.  Dick has been practicing since Christmas, at least an hour a day at home and with intense nightly rehearsals as opening night neared. Sunday’s matinee was the sixth of 12 show during a four-week runs.  The first rate cast featured J.J. Boylan, a Highland elementary school principal, as Jean Valjean.  We celebrated Dick’s “bucket list” feat by dining at Presto’s. 

President Barack Obama visited the Pullman neighborhood to commemorative the site’s designation as a national monument.  He used the occasion to plug former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Chicago’s mayor, who’s up for re-election.  Emanuel is leading the effort for Obama’s Presidential library Chicago to be in the “Windy City,” where Obama was a community organizer and raised a family.  Other possibilities include New York City and Honolulu, where he grew up.  Known as Barry, he graduated from Punahou High School, located just two blocks from where Toni and I lived 50 years ago.

A NWI Times column by Rich James declares, “Indiana should see benefits of labor unions.”  After passing a right-to-work law and strangling public schools in order to destroy teachers unions, Republican mossbacks are poised to kill a decades-old prevailing wage statute.  It “opens the door,” James wrote, “for out-of-state companies to use temporary workers who are paid less and have fewer of no benefits.”  For shame!  Republican mayors Jon Costas (Valparaiso) and Jim Snyder (Portage) have even testified against the proposal.  House Democratic leader Scott Pelath declared, “I’m looking at some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and I’m starting to notice the tell-tale signs of power-drunkenness.”
 Scott Pelath



 “Birdman” won Academy Awards for best picture and director; Michael Keaton deserved one, too.  Oscar highlights included Lady Gaga singing “The Hills Are Alive” from “Sound of Music,” John Legend performing the winning song from “Selma,” and Graham Moore, winner for Best Adopted Screenplay (for “The Imitation Game”) confessing: I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I'm standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it's your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”  Critics have slammed “The Imitation Game” for egregious distortions, making Alan Turing out to be a misfit and loner, the very stereotype of a closeted homosexual.

This is the season for “Transgender chic,” not a bad thing compared to mistreating such people as freaks.  New York and Washington Post Magazine recently featured photo spreads, and a Sports Illustrated column entitled “A new reality,” discusses former decathlon Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner’s gender transition.  Married to Kris Kardashian and on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” Jenner appears, wrote Alan Shipnuck, “to be redefining what is normal, before a rapt public.  His new legacy may endure well after the gold no longer glitters.”  Reading about Jenner brought to mind Roberta Muldoon, a transsexual former pro football player in John Irving’s “The World According to Garp.”  In the 1982 film adaptation John Lithgow played Roberta.
Post-Tribune photo by Kyle Telechan


The Post-Trib ran a front-page photo of Alyssa Black and other roller derby hopefuls attending a “fresh meat” crash course at Camelot Lanes, Derby 101.  The team, first named Region Rat Rollers, now are the South Shore Roller Girls.  Players have nicknames, such as Candice “Hardcore Candy” Hanusin.  Alyssa likes Sylvia Wrath, the psycho poet.  Friends suggested JK Brawling and Lady MacDeath.

I told Nicole Anslover’s class about photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, whose photos of women workers at U.S. Steel illustrated a 1943 Life cover story.  Archivist Steve McShane let me borrow the actual issue, which historian Lance Trusty had donated.  I also passed around my WW II “Homefront” Steel Shavings.  Born in 1904, Bourke-White grew up in Cleveland, suffered through a brief marriage, and became friends with bisexual First Lady  Eleanor Roosevelt and lesbian Labor Secretary Frances Perkins.  Chief photographer for Life magazine, Bourke-White in 1937 took an iconic picture of African American victims of a flood in Kentucky seeking relief in front of a sign touting the American way.


Bourke-White relished overseas wartime assignments that often put her in harm’s way.  One admirer gushed: “The woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow, and pulled out of he Chesapeake when her chopper crashed was known to the Life staff as Maggie the Indestructible.”  With Patton’s army she photographed Buchenwald death camp survivors and covered postwar violence in newly independent India and Pakistan.  Her photos of Mahatma Gandhi captured the essence of that apostle of nonviolent civil disobedience. After a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease, she died in 1971 at age 67.

Summarizing postwar suburban affluence, Nicole Anslover concluded that America went from a front porch to a backyard patio society.  She confessed to having won a trivia contest at an “I Love Lucy” stage show at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse.  Her mother was a huge fan, and they often watched reruns together.   Nicole ended up with a bag full of “Lucy” mementos for her mother.  Lucille Ball had to fight TV executives over casting Cuban-American husband Desi Arnez.  In the sitcom Lucy keeps trying to have a show business career, unlike the Happy Housewives portrayed in “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” and “The Donna Reed Show.”  Nicole referenced Patricia Arquette’s a plea for wage equality and equal rights  in heracceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress (in “Boyhood”).

The main characters in Anne Tyler’s “A Spool of Blue Thread” are my age. Abby is showing signs of Alzheimer’s; Red has serious health problems, including a weak heart and near deafness. Two sons move back to look after them, and sparks fly.  Like most Anne Tyler novels the family is both quirky and endearing, with a few skeletons in the closet.  Critic Francine Prose wrote in New York Review of Books:

  “Tyler’s white, middle-class characters inhabit houses roomy enough for the discarded furniture and sentimental detritus of earlier generations.  Courtships are conducted on front porches, neighbors besiege the bereaved with covered casseroles, clans convene for summer vacations at the shore.  Her Baltimore, we may feel, is a place that no longer exists, if it ever did, except in her novels.  Yet her fans will recognize it instantly, with all the satisfaction one associates with a pleasant, reoccurring dream.  It’s Brigadoon (the mysterious Scottish village in the 1947 Lerner and Loewe musical), a place whose residents leave rarely, often with difficulty, and sometimes at their own peril.”


I spoke to Steve McShane’s students about Gary pioneer residents.  I showed them Archives copies of Margaret Seeley and Harry Hall’s autobiographies and Albert Anchors’ diary and read from them. Born in western Pennsylvania, Hall was bored with an indoor desk job and decided to start a fresh life in the new steel city in 1907, and soon got work from a builder named Mr. Savage.  He wrote in his Autobiography:

            “I hadn’t read much but what I read I remembered.  One thing that stuck in my memory was the advice of Horace Greeley: ‘Go West Young Man.’
Gary wasn’t very far West, but it was new.  I was like prairie life and the Gold Rush.”  On reaching Gary I got off the train at a co-called station that consisted only of a boxcar.  At this time there were no streets, no water, no gas or electricity, no sewers, no telephone and no place to live except a cot in a tent that was alive with bedbugs.  For three nights I slept in a park on one of the sandhills.  I roomed with a friend in Indiana Harbor until the Delaware Hotel opened up.


When Harry Hall walked by the Red Light district known as the Patch on Monday mornings, he often came up stains of human blood.  Hall wrote:

            “Gary was quite wild, like the Wild West.  It had little to offer in the way of culture.  Our excitement was in fights and fires.  Merchants kept guns by their cash drawer.  I saw several shootings and a couple of ax murders.  The fire department was a bucket brigade.  If a place caught fire, it usually burned to the ground.  Alarms were given by firing pistol shots.”

Turning 73, I have several role models, including bowling teammate Frank Shufran (82), blues legend Buddy Guy (79), geologist Bob Votaw (still teaching in his mid-seventies), and community activist Selma Bayer, who turned 90 and bragged, “I’m still hot!”  She’s divine.  
 got phone calls from Marianne Brush and family members, plus several dozen Facebook birthday wishes.  Missy Brush included a link to Cracker’s “Happy Birthday To me,” which includes the line: “I’m feeling thankful for the small things.”
above, Missy and Marianne Brush; below, Dave(r) with Tamiya Towns and Denzel Smith; photo by Veronica Garcia

Dave and I had a fabulous dinner a Casa Blanca, where Jesse Villapando used to take Latino Historical Society members after our Saturday meetings.  Learning I was reading the latest Anne Tyler novel, Dave said, “Isn’t she the one who wrote ‘Breathing Lessons’ and ‘The Accidental Tourist?’”  I gave George Bodmer Tyler’s “Digging to America” when he was hospitalized from being struck by a car while crossing Broadway.  Dave told me he plays poker with Donnie Hollingsworth, whose journal I published 15 years ago.  I knew we were talking about the same person when Dave said he is a fanatic IU fan. On December 1, 1999, his journal stated: “IU is now 3-0 after beating Notre Dame in overtime.  They were up by 24 points in the first half.  I almost had a heart attack watching the game.”

Dave announced the basketball game between East Chicago Central and Gary’s Thea Bowman Academy and also was in charge of music during timeouts and for the halftime show.  Kawann Short, who played on the 2007 state championship Cardinals and is a defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers, gave Dave a big hug.  Hyron Edwards received a trophy for being selected Indiana player of the year.  Marielle Feliciano did a nice rendition of the National Anthem.  Louis Vasquez, 92 years young, was in his regular seat with scorebook in hand.  I said hi at halftime.  Many players had haircuts similar to Bulls all-star Jimmy Butler, long on top and shaved at the sides.

Bowman had several scrappy guards, but in the third quarter Central pulled safely ahead.  Edwards played like a man possessed, scoring threes at will, assisting on no-look passes, and scoring 29 points, climaxed with a slam dunk.  Junior Jermaine Couisnard had several spectacular dunks as well.  The Cardinals had 90 points with still four minutes to go when Coach Abe Brown took out the regulars.  It was a memorable night.  I almost wore a Grand Valley State shirt Alissa bought for my birthday and that Phil gave me last weekend (along with one he bought of Cadillac Brewery), but the weather was too cold.  I could have posed as a college scout.

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